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CORONAVIRUS/Baishatun Matsu pilgrimage to be held from July 5-13
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Taipei, June 16 (CNA) The Baishatun Matsu pilgrimage, one of the largest annual religious processions in the country, will be held from July 5-13, nearly four months later than originally scheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers announced Tuesday.

Hung Wen-hua, head of the temple management committee at Baishatun Gongtian Temple in Miaoli, said the date was chosen by the sea goddess Matsu using divination blocks, a Taoist practice adopted to seek guidance from deities.

Matsu chose July 9 as the date to hold the "Divine Spirit Renewal" ceremony at Chaotian Temple in Yunlin County, meaning the procession which starts in the northern Miaoli temple has to depart on July 5, according to Hung.

The annual pilgrimage, held for more than 200 years, is one of the two most important Matsu pilgrimages in Taiwan, the other being the Dajia Matsu Pilgrimage.

Every year, the statue of the widely-worshipped Taoist deity and protector of seafarers, is placed in a palanquin and carried on the shoulders of worshipers over 400km from Miaoli to Chiayi and back, over a nine day period.

The pilgrimage, originally scheduled to start on March 24, was postponed when the government introduced measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, around 50,000 worshippers joined the nine-day religious event. Due to the pandemic, the temple said 38,000 people have registered to be part of the procession this year.

Given the fact that this year's pilgrimage will be staged in mid-July, the temple has advised those taking part to drink lots of water and take regular rest, to deal with the summer heat, according to Hung. Worshippers are also encouraged to watch the event online.

In an effort to combat the COVID-19 coronavirus, the temple has registered all participants who will take part in the pilgrimage.

Temple workers and believers will also be asked to wear surgical face masks, take their temperature every day and regularly sanitize their hands during the procession, according to Hung.

Other rituals usually held during the pilgrimage, such as pilgrims crawling under Matsu's palanquin, will be strongly discouraged this year, and participants will be instructed not to crowd the palanquin, Huang said.

The temple also plans to streamline a number of rituals to ensure large numbers of people are not crowded together for long periods of time.

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